Bridge River Archaeological Project
Dr. Anna Marie Prentiss
University of Montana
The Bridge River Archaeological Project is an interdisciplinary collaborative effort involving contributions from First Nations members, archaeologists, zooarchaeologists, paleoethnobotanists, geoarchaeologists, and other scientists including experts in ancient DNA and isotopic analysis of animal bones. Our current goal is to develop a comprehensive perspective on life in Housepit 54 across its many centuries of occupation. In accomplishing this we gain a better understanding Middle Fraser Canyon First Nations history and we address critical anthropological questions regarding the origins of village life, population growth and decline, social organization, technology, and Colonial encounters and relationships.
Excavations of Housepit 54 were initiated in the summer of 2012 focusing on the final floor and roof dated to the late Fur Trade period (1850s). We were pleased have a large crew made up of UM graduate students, field school members, and many members of the Bridge River Band!
Results of these investigations identified nearly 10,000 stone artifacts, approximately 8000 animal bones, 52 items classified as trade goods of European manufacture, and several house floor features. Study of these items has generated a range of conclusions that will be detailed in a forthcoming book. The Fur Trade floor was organized in activity areas surrounding a large central hearth. Household activities included food preparation and cooking, stone and bone tool manufacture, hide working and clothing manufacture, and undoubtedly a wide range of social activities.
The presence of large numbers of fragmentary mammal bones, about 250 stone hide scrapers, and over 100 arrow points suggests that hunting and hide processing may have been a particularly important activity during this time. One major payoff of hide processing could have been trade for certain European items including glass beads from as far away as Venice, Italy. Clearly the Housepit 54 people we economically active and socially engaged during the 1850s!
The excavations were conducted by a somewhat smaller crew in 2013 that once again included many students from The University of Montana and several enthusiastic members of the Bridge River Band. We were joined for three exciting days by the archaeological field school from Hamilton College (Clinton, New York), directed by Dr. Nathan Goodale.
Excavations in the 2013 field season opened the more ancient floors at Housepit 54. While laboratory research is currently underway, it is not too early to state that thousands of stone artifacts and animal bones were recovered from six floors dated 1100-1300 years ago. The floors are remarkably well preserved as thin layers of clay containing intact cooking and storage features and extensive distributions of cultural materials. On-going research seeks to reconstruct the stability and change in plant foraging, hunting, and fishing; social organization as reflected in spatial arrangement of activities on the floors; population growth and decline; variation in trade relations; and the underlying causes of social and economic change.